I’ve always had an unusual fascination with wildlife. Growing up, I not only had multiple dogs and cats, but also birds, hamsters, gerbils and mice.
I majored in Biology (of course). I have excellent memories of camping with my Mammalogy 101 class right outside the mouth of a bat cave in northern Vermont. Junior year, my Evolutionary Biology professor noticed my overzealousness and invited me to spend a few summer weeks in the Arizona desert catching geckos by the tail (he was gathering data on tail-regeneration). I declined, because my boyfriend would be in Connecticut all summer (Stupid! I should have chosen the geckos.).
You get the picture. I was really into weird nature stuff that most girls don’t like.
So, naturally, I assumed my kids would be just as fascinated as I am. I have two boys, and boys are supposed to get into that kind of thing, right? What I’ve come to realize is that you can’t convince someone to be a nature lover. But God help me, I’ve tried.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gleefully purchased wildlife-lover items for my kids hoping they’ll find bugs and nature as compelling as I do. Without fail, after half-heartedly feigning interest, my kids cease to notice these “projects” and go back to their Legos, Nintendo DS’s and iPods. Sadly, I’m saddled with keeping these creatures alive while they languish in their various containers (“habitat” is a cruel distortion of the truth in every instance I’m about to describe).
The African Dwarf Frogs lasted almost two godforsaken years in their little self-contained aquatic cube/prison. You only needed to feed them once every few days, so when the first one finally died, I found it afloat on the surface with the other frog shooting daggers at me with its eyes. The second one gave up hope immediately afterwards and died within a week. No one was upset (not even me). I’m not sure the kids even remembered we had frogs after the first week they’d been in our house.
The praying mantis egg case in the little netted cube habitat was, seemingly, a dud. I glued it onto a stick as instructed, and we checked on that damned thing every two or three hours for two weeks. Even I had given up hope. Then, on the day I’d resigned myself to admitting defeat and tossing it into the garbage, I awoke to find – I kid you not – about 300 newborn centimeter-long mantises crawling around in that container. The kids found it fascinating for exactly 6.5 minutes and then ran off to claim their Pop-Tarts.
The praying mantis episode sort of ran me ragged. I had to get rid of all but one of the teeny tiny mantises within a day, unless we wanted to witness them killing and eating each other (in retrospect, maybe that would’ve captured the kids’ interest). I released them into the yard, and the one I kept became my every-waking-moment obsession for the next three months.
Mantises grow slowly, and they ONLY. EAT. LIVE. FOOD. Each morning, my husband giggled and smirked through the window at me as I traipsed around the yard, cursing and swatting mosquitoes away from my face as I searched for tiny aphids and baby inchworms. Finally, I resorted to purchasing flightless fruit flies from Petco.
The mantis only grew to about an inch long before he was accidentally murdered by a friend to whom I’d entrusted his care while we vacationed on Cape Cod (In truth, his death was likely due to a change in environment. That’s what I told her anyway – she was riddled with guilt.). Thank God that was over.
I end this diatribe with my current dismal situation. Christmas before last, I purchased a “self-cleaning” fish tank made by those damned “As Seen On TV” people. You can already see where this is going, can’t you? When the algae on the sides of the tank began to obstruct the view of the colorful Betta fish inside, I did some googling and purchased a couple of Inca Gold snails. I now must not only feed the fish its pellets, but must remember to throw in occasional bits of blanched cucumber to keep the snails happy (because, of course, snails don’t survive on algae alone).
The system isn’t exactly working. For some reason, the snails are now slacking off on their algae cleaning jobs (too fat and happy on the cucumber bits?), and I can’t really even see the fish unless I look down into the tank from above. Why do these damned things live so long???
My husband is totally mortified that we even have this green-slimed container in the house, and he keeps pleading, “Just get rid of the fish for God’s sake! Put it outside!” (it’s 20 degrees today). But I can’t. At heart, I’m still a lover of all living things and it’s my duty to keep this guy swimming until his natural death.
Betta fish are pretty hardy though. I’m thinking he can probably make it just fine while we’re gone on vacation next week and the house is lowered to 50 degrees.
Much to the horror of my husband, my younger son just asked for a bearded dragon for his next birthday. I am in serious and dire need of an intervention, friends.. Please remind me about how this will end badly, because I’ve already caught myself perusing bearded dragon care and feeding sites online.
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